director/writer: Alice Wu; cinematographer: Greta Zozula; editors: Ian Blume/Lee Percy; music: Anton Sanko; cast: Leah Lewis (Ellie Chu), Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer), Alexxis Lemire (Aster Flores),  Collin Chou (Edwin Chu), Wolfgang Novogratz (Trig Carson), Becky Ann Baker (Mrs. Geselschap, teacher); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating:PG-13; producers: Anthony Bregman/Alice Wu/M. Blair Breard; Netflix; 2020)

“Well-conceived and superbly written quirky coming-of-age story.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Alice Wu (“Saving Face”), her second film after a 15-year break,  is the writer-director of this well-conceived and superbly written quirky coming-of-age story. It’s a teen spin on the Cyrano de Bergerac story. The indie rom-com movie won the Best US Narrative Feature Award at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The 17-year-old Chinese-American, Ellie Chu (
Leah Lewis), is a lonely, bright, lesbian high school student in the all-white small town of Squahamish, Washington. She writes school papers and does the homework of her classmates for cash she really needs for her household. The shy reserve football player on the team, Daniel Diemer (Paul Munsky), uses her service to write love letters to the coed he has a secret crush on–the school beauty, Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), even if she has a popular but dim jock boyfriend named Trig Carson (Wolfgang Novogratz).

Ellie lives in an apartment with her non-English speaking widowed father
(Collin Chou), a Ph.D. who is a downer and unable to work ever since his wife passed away. So the extra cash really helps pay the bills.

The letters, at $50 a pop, which Paul can afford since he’s already a cook in the family sausage business, use the romantic references from movies like
“Casablanca.” But Aster catches on to that hook and lets the letter writer know she’s hip to it. Ellie thereby figures they’re playing a mind game and decides to go more fully into expressing her own true feelings. During the course of the correspondence, she notes that Aster is not only Paul’s dream girl but hers.

The concept gets fully played out with charm, pleasure and insight, showing keen observations on both romance and life in a small town. The actors, much older in real life than teens, yet somehow are convincing as teens. They all do a good job of showing how daunting an experience romance can be at that tender age. It’s a tantalizing film that’s both smart and funny, telling an engaging and emotionally involved story that opens up our eyes over those romantic yearning for that perfect other. It only flags over a tired bit about the school Talent Show and its football references don’t score any points.